Today, we drove to Birmingham for the day to explore this Alabama city famous for being one of the major hubs for civil rights movement activity. We discovered that it has a very fun and eclectic farmer’s market with many vendors selling everything from squash pickles, baby eggplants, to freshly baked wheat loaves and grandma’s handed down recipe for banana pudding. We visited the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, plus the 16th Street Baptist Church right across the street, where in 1963, four little black girls were murdered when the Ku Klux Klan bombed them in a racist attack. We learned in further detail what went down in Birmingham during the many decades of racial segregation, and got a relearning of the events that happened in cities across the south, from Greensboro with the sit-ins at “whites only” restaurants (which we saw at the International Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro last year) to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., when he was standing at the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel (which is now where the National Civil Rights Museum is located) in support of sanitation worker rights in 1968.
I can’t help but think about all the parallels between what happened in a segregated America and what happens today. Is it really that much different? Now, it’s just more disguised and nuanced. “States rights” is just code for anti-people of color, anti-woman, anti-immigrants, anti-progress. Shooting unarmed black men is defended as a police officer protecting his own life. Disagreeing with Muslims or brown people coming into this country is based on the lack of desire to allow people to “leech” off our system of benefits… which really isn’t that good to begin with when compared with that of other westernized countries. It’s hard for me to understand or empathize with that way of thinking. Aren’t we all just trying to do the best we can with what we have?
The worst part about visiting all these museums full of history that is supposed to teach us how we can learn from the past and not repeat it is that the people who need to visit these museums and read this history are just not doing it and will likely never do it. They will never be open to visiting a civil rights museum or exhibit or watching a movie about police brutality against black people. There’s no seeing the other side’s story to them. But it goes back to how poorly educated people are here because in everyday schools in the U.S., you aren’t fully taught the full brunt of slavery and the post-Civil War period. It’s not like when the Civil War ended, all white people widely opened their arms to black people; it was actually quite the opposite, hence the KKK. That’s why we had laws around segregation and no interracial marriages. But if you don’t know that or learn that, then you will never “get” it today.